Read an Excerpt: 'Cloris'

The article was published, and it included a description of our lunch and my saying how desirable this approach to cooking would be for people who needed to lose weight, fat people. During my interview with Johnny Carson, he asked me about the article and what its main point was. Typical of me, I said what jumped into my mind, that there were too many overweight people walking around and that we should have "fat catchers" to bring them in for treatment. Johnny was not often speechless, but at that moment I saw it in his eyes: he'd been hit by a Taser.

This was twenty years before concerns about obesity in America had crystallized, so my remarks caused a considerable stir. The network got hundreds of letters, and so did I. One of my closest friends said that I should get security around the house, because there were some very irate overweight people who might want to do me harm. The irony is that today I am one of those people who should be rounded up by a fat catcher. I've gained too much weight, but I'm going to attack the problem, and by the time you get to this page in the book, I'll be my sylphlike self again.

Back to being Peck's bad boy. At the same time my undisciplined behavior at work was getting attention, my personal life was in chaos. I was having the house worked on, and there were literally eighteen workmen there every day, and they needed their questions answered. George and I were separating, my daughter, Dinah, was five years old and needed me, and my son Bryan was in New York, using drugs—he'd call and say someone had stolen his coat or some other such improbable story, and I would send him money. I had not learned that any money I sent him, whatever the alleged reason, would be used to buy drugs.

I don't offer my personal life as an excuse for my behavior, because I was the one in control of my life. It was I who was late, I who created the chaos at home. I've asked myself if this was compulsive behavior or if I had a choice. Could I have done my work on the show professionally, been on time and observed the rules, and conducted my personal life in a responsible way? I'm not sure. I really don't know if I could have chosen to act differently then.

But things began to change. Valerie Harper was the reason. She was always my defender; she supported me unequivocally and at all times. She once told me, "We all ought to bow down to you, get down on our hands and knees, because you're the only one who's doing it right." She called me her girlfriend. No one had called me that before. I was terribly moved by her unflagging support. It brought a change in me.

The need to be late and behave erratically began to fade. Because of Valerie's positive picture of me, I was able to let go of the life mode I had adopted. One day I said it out loud. I was in the make-up chair. Ben Nye was putting on my eyeliner, and I said, "It's going to be different, Ben. I'm going to be different. I just want you to know that." He seemed to grasp what I was saying. He smiled, and from that moment on, his attitude toward me was different. Life was different. I'd been released. I didn't have to be Peck's bad boy anymore. I could if I wanted to, but I didn't have to.

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